Heresies do not appear as mushrooms overnight. The Presbyterian Church in America – a body whom we would regard as a sister Church – has gone through a few disturbances, especially since the Revoice conference of 2018 which appeared to remove same-sex attraction from the Christian list of sins. Yet it may be that we ought to look at what has happened in the Presbyterian Church of Canada. In 1925 the United Church of Canada was formed of a union consisting of three bodies: the Methodist Church, Canada; the Congregational Union of Canada; and about 70% of the Presbyterian Church of Canada.
A die-hard Presbyterian might have entertained hopes that the remnant language of the Old Testament might be applicable to the much smaller Presbyterian Church of Canada, post 1925. Hopes were high that the Reformed gospel of grace founded on the inerrant Word of God might prevail, but by the time the Church historian, W. Stanford Reid, had retired, and worked in Australia in the early 1980s, he was privately saying that much was being lost. The evidence for that trend has become increasingly obvious.
C. S. Lewis’ third letter in the Screwtape Letters has the senior devil, Screwtape, speak of ‘the delightful situation of a human saying things with the express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken.’ We are all guilty of that. But let us look briefly at what has happened concerning the homosexual issue in the Presbyterian Church of Canada. In 1969 the denomination supported legislation to decriminalise homosexual acts between consenting adults in private. Over the next few decades, the Church put forward an increasingly accepting stance towards homosexuals and lesbians and their lifestyle within the Church.
By 2017 the moderator was instructed to prepare a letter of repentance addressed to the LGBTQ community – something which the General Assembly had done back in 1994. The new sin was homophobia. Predestination was soon given a new meaning with the declaration that ‘Homosexual orientation is not a sin. The weight of scientific evidence suggests that sexual orientation is innate, established early in life, and not a matter of choice.’ At the 2021 General Assembly ministers were allowed to officiate at same-sex marriages, and LGBTQI people could be ordained as ministers and ruling elders. Yet another apology was issued to LGBTQI people.
How did this come about? Deviations from God’s truth arise from deep within the human heart, which is deceitful above all things (Jer.17:9). Hence the warnings of the apostle Paul against being deceived on a number of issues (1 Cor.6:9-10). We are not born neutral; we are, in C. S. Lewis’ words, ‘bent ones’. Our wrong desires are not to be celebrated but mourned. The one who struggles with such sin needs every encouragement in the Lord. Lewis put it most movingly in Letter VIII in Screwtape: ‘Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.’ No cakes, no flaunting self-dramatisation, no rainbows – just the evidence of the powerful work of the gracious Spirit of God in the heart of a born rebel.
‘Such were some of you’ (1 Cor.6:11). Victory is possible – substantial healing in this life and then an endless life of holiness in the new heaven and new earth. There is a washing. We have all known the feeling of being washed after being filthy and dirty, perhaps after working in the garden. This is like that, but much more. There is a setting apart by the Spirit, the act whereby God makes us a new creation. And there is justification through the merits of Christ alone.
Could we not all join together in the prayer of Augustine’s near the end of his Confessions: ‘Give Yourself to me, my God; restore Yourself to me. I show You my love, but if it is too little, give me strength to love You more.’
With warm regards in Christ,
Rev. Dr Peter Barnes, Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia